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Syringe. Credit: Wikipedia

Some people get a large red rash on their arm after the first Moderna vaccine dose, and it is being called "COVID arm". It generally appears a few days after the shot, generally occurs in the arm that received the shot, and it goes away in less than a week. It occurs rarely - in under 1% of the people getting the first dose, and even less frequently (0.2%) after the second dose.

It is considered harmless - a hypersensitivity rash. Someone getting the rash after the first dose should get the second dose. In other words - everything is OK, and you can definitely proceed with the second vaccine shot.

You can take antihistamines if needed (if the rash is itchy).

The New England Journal of Medicine recently published a letter and photos about this rash - Delayed Large Local Reactions to mRNA-1273 Vaccine against SARS-CoV-2. Some patient photos of the rash:

Credit: New England Journal of Medicine

From the CDC page: If you get a rash where you got the shot

CDC has learned of reports that some people have experienced a red, itchy, swollen, or painful rash where they got the shot. These rashes can start a few days to more than a week after the first shot and are sometimes quite large. These rashes are also known as “COVID arm.” If you experience “COVID arm” after getting the first shot, you should still get the second shot at the recommended interval if the vaccine you got needs a second shot. Tell your vaccination provider that you experienced a rash or “COVID arm” after the first shot. Your vaccination provider may recommend that you get the second shot in the opposite arm.

If the rash is itchy, you can take an antihistamine. If it is painful, you can take a pain medication like acetaminophen or a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID).

Pregnant women now have another reason to try to limit exposure to flame retardants while pregnant - having higher levels of flame retardants in their blood during pregnancy is associated with an increased risk of preterm birth.

Nearly 100% of North American women have flame retardants  such as poly-brominated ethers (PBDEs) in their bodies, which can be measured in their blood. Unfortunately they are  hormone (endocrine ) disruptors, and they are also very similar in structure to thyroid hormones. Flame retardants have a number of harmful health effects during pregnancy.

A team of NY and California researchers checked the level of one type of PBDE in the blood of 3,529 pregnant women in the first trimester of pregnancy. They found that those with the highest levels (above 4 nanograms per milliliter of blood) had a higher incidence of preterm birth. But if they had levels below that there wasn't an increased risk of preterm birth.

Flame retardants are all around us (e.g. synthetic carpeting, upholstered furniture), but they migrate out of the product, and so get into us. Yes, they are in our household dust. There are ways to minimize exposures - for example, check carpeting, sofa, and upholstered furniture labels, and only buy those products free of flame retardants. See tips on how to lower your exposure to harmful chemicals.

From Medical Xpress: Exposure to flame retardants early in pregnancy linked to premature birth

Expectant women are more likely to give birth early if they have high blood levels of a chemical used in flame retardants compared with those who have limited exposure, a new study finds. ...continue reading "High Flame Retardant Levels During Pregnancy Linked to Preterm Birth"

It's official! The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says there is no evidence that COVID-19 is transmitted by food or packaging. This means that the last holdouts can stop washing and disinfecting their food (remember those scary instructional videos last spring?). Whew!

This opinion has international consensus. For example: the International Commission on Microbiological Specifications for Foods (ICMSF)External Link Disclaimer, stated: “Despite the billions of meals and food packages handled since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, to date there has not been any evidence that food, food packaging or food handling is a source or important transmission route for SARS-CoV-2 resulting in COVID-19."

The FDA stresses that COVID-19 is a respiratory illness that is spread from person to person through the air - through droplets or aerosol transmission.

From the medical site Medscape: FDA: COVID-19 Not Transmitted by Food or Packaging

There is no evidence you can catch coronavirus through food or food packaging, the FDA and other government agencies said Thursday.  ...continue reading "COVID-19 Is Not Transmitted By Food Or Packaging"

Many grocery stores now offer several brands of organic milk and eggs. But faced with choices, how do you choose the best organic brands? That is, how do you know which brands really follow organic practices, and which are factory farms playing at sort-of organic?

Meat and dairy products labeled "organic" can be vastly different in how the animals were raised, and whether they truly are organic. This means that they also have nutritional differences (e.g. in beneficial fatty acids), differences in whether the animals were organic from birth, what kind of food they ate, did the animals spend time outside, and what was given to the animals. Yes, there are big loop holes (which Big Agriculture actively lobbies for and follows).

This also explains why factory-farm organic foods are typically much cheaper than  organic foods from small farms or cooperatives. The small farms are being squeezed out. Organic is more than just being antibiotic and pesticide free. You get what you pay for!

There are two main things you can do: 1) buy organic foods from smaller farms, especially local farms,  and 2) look at ratings of organic food brands and buy the better, more reputable ones. But keep in mind that all organic brands are better than non-organic foods (which contain pesticides and drug residues).

COMPARING ORGANIC BRANDS:

1) An excellent resource is the Cornucopia Institute. (cornucopia.org) They have Scorecards that rate and rank different types of organic food (dairy, poultry, cereal, etc). They do research and investigations, and act as a watchdog organization for organic agriculture in North America.

If you look at their Organic Dairy Scorecard, you will see that organic factory farms score poorly (Horizon, many store brands such as Costco and Shoprite). There are many great organic  brands available nationally (e.g. Organic Valley, an independent cooperative of organic farmers that carries dairy products, eggs).

2) The Organic Eye (organiceye.org) is an investigative organization that is monitoring the "increasingly corrupt relationship between corporate agribusiness and government regulators" and how this is weakening organic food standards. See some of their work on the News page, including several videos called "Kastel's Kitchen" where Mark Kastel discusses and compares high integrity organic brands with factory farm organics, and also fraudulent organic foods from China.

According to Mark Kastel (in the videos) some very good organic brands are: Seven Stars yogurt, Hawthorne Valley, Eden Foods, Nature's Path cereals, Dr. Bronner soaps, Pure Indian Foods, Sno Pac Products (frozen vegetables and berries), and Frontier Co-op (herbs, spices, extracts). On the east coast Stonyfield Farms gets its milk from organic family farms (good!). Many store brands don't reveal where they get their organic milk, but many (most?) get it from huge factory farm Aurora Dairy, which has been the subject of investigations.

If you want to be truly depressed about Earth's future, reading a recent article by an international group of scientists will produce feelings of horror, anxiety, and helplessness. Even the title was bleak: "Underestimating the Challenges of Avoiding A Ghastly Future".

They laid out in depressing detail how life on Earth and its future is far, far worse than we realize. It's all due to our inability to come to terms with and take action on biodiversity loss (massive species extinctions!), increasing population and consumption, and climate change. Which is accelerating and getting worse year by year.

The 17 scientists reviewed more than 150 studies to produce a summary of the state of our natural world. They stress that environmental conditions in the future on Earth will be far worse than we generally realize. The loss of biodiversity, the accelerating climate change in the coming decades, along with ignorance and inaction, is threatening the survival of all species, including humans.

The bottom line: We  (governments, individuals, corporations, industries) must all take action now to avoid the worst case scenarios, including extinction of our species. As the researchers said: "The science underlying these issues is strong, but awareness is weak."

A good discussion of the article results, including what must be done. Some excerpts from The Conversation: Worried about Earth's future? Well, the outlook is worse than even scientists can grasp

Anyone with even a passing interest in the global environment knows all is not well. But just how bad is the situation? Our new paper shows the outlook for life on Earth is more dire than is generally understood.  ...continue reading "The Future Of Life On Earth Does Not Look Good"

It's getting hotter! NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) just released a short dramatic video stating that 2020 tied 2016 for the warmest year on record. They also released an article pointing out that while the last few decades have shown a "dramatic warming trend", the last seven years have been the warmest seven years on record.

The NASA video (under 1 minute):

It is expected that Earth's temperature will continue increasing (climate change!), and that records will continue to be broken. Rising temperatures are resulting in a loss of sea ice, sea level rise, longer and more intense heat waves, shifts in plant and animal habitats, etc. Temperatures are increasing due to human activities, specifically emissions of greenhouse gases, like carbon dioxide and methane.

Are humans up to the challenge of climate change? We have no choice.

It turns out that people experiencing a major depression have differences in their gut microbiome (community of microbes) when compared to healthy people who are not depressed. A persistent and prolonged period of extreme sadness or depression is called a major depressive disorder (MDD).

A team of researchers (in both China and the US) analyzed stool samples from 311 people  with either MDD or healthy and not-depressed (the control group). They used modern genetic sequencing to see what microbes were in the stools. They found differences in 47 bacterial species, 3 bacteriophages (a virus that infects bacteria), and 50 fecal metabolites - which suggested to the researchers that depression is characterized by gut microbiome problems (it's imbalanced or out of whack).

There actually was a "signature composition" of gut microbes in the depressed persons, all of whom were unmedicated. They found higher levels ("increased abundance") of 18 bacterial species in people with MDD (mainly belonging to the genus Bacteroides) and 29 were less common (mainly belonging to Eubacterium and Blautia), when compared to healthy persons.

The researchers point out that other studies also find the gut microbiome to be imbalanced in MDD, and there are animal experiments showing that the gut microbiome has a role in causing MDD (e.g. transplanting gut microbes from a depressed person into a rat results in the rat exhibiting depressive behaviors).

Excerpts from The Scientist: Distinct Microbiome and Metabolites Linked with Depression

The human gut microbiome is a world in miniature, populated by a chatty community of bacteria, viruses, fungi, and protozoa nestled within various gastrointestinal niches. Over the past decade, researchers have linked disturbances within this complicated microbial society to a variety of diseases. Major depressive disorder (MDD) is one such condition, but the studies have been small and the findings imprecise.   ...continue reading "Gut Microbiome Is Altered In Persons With Major Depression"

It is shocking that the same virus can result in the majority of people with COVID-19 having minimal or no symptoms, but others really suffering or even dying from it. We now know that after developing a COVID-19 infection, some people seem to be ill with symptoms for weeks and even months. This has been referred to as "long-COVID" or "long-haul COVID".

How frequently does this occur? The UK Office of National Statistics (ONS) is looking into this issue, and currently estimate that: 1) About 1 in 5 respondents testing positive for COVID-19 exhibit symptoms for a period of 5 weeks or longer, and  2) About 1 in 10 persons testing positive for COVID-19 exhibit symptoms for a period of 12 weeks or longer. (That's a lot!!!)

Using data from the ONS Infection Survey on hundreds of thousands of people in the UK, the report found that during the last week of November 2020 about 186,000 people in England were living with Covid-19 symptoms that had persisted for between five and 12 weeks. The most commonly reported symptom was fatigue, followed by a cough, headache, loss of taste, loss of smell, sore throat, fever, shortness of breath, nausea, diarrhea, and abdominal pain.

Coronavirus emerging from cells.

The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) also discusses "long-term effects of COVID-19" on its web-site. They mention the most common long-term symptoms as: fatigue, shortness of breath, cough, joint pain, chest pain, but also list other symptoms such as "brain fog" (difficulty with thinking and concentration), intermittent fevers, headaches, and also less frequent more serious long-term complications (e.g. kidney injury, inflammation of the heart muscle).

The good news is that people generally report slow improvement over time. There are now popular support groups on Facebook (e,g, Survivor CorpsCovid-19 Support Group (have it/had it), Long Covid Support Group, and Long Haul Covid Fighters). Fiona Lowenstein started a Covid-19 support group (Body Politic Covid-19 support group) for people living with the virus. Medical centers that are treating long-term COVID symptoms (e.g. NYU Langone).

Another helpful source of information is Paul Garner, professor of infectious diseases at Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine. He has documented his battle with long-term Covid-19 symptoms in the British Medical Journal blog (also June 23 follow-up), and the need for "pacing" during recovery to prevent relapses. [twitter.com/paulgarnerwoof?lang=en ]

We are still in the early days of understanding COVID-19 and its effects. A year ago we were only aware of an emerging virus in China. And now it's global pandemic.

It's hard to believe in this month of cold and snow, but climate scientists are saying that 2020 is almost tied with 2016 to be the hottest year on record. This past decade has been the hottest ever recorded, and the last five years were the hottest since 1880.

Note that with each new broken heat record, the baseline is now set higher. The heat increases have no end in sight, and so the future will be hotter. This is climate change change.

One example: This summer Phoenix, Arizona experienced a record-breaking 145 days above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. The city also had 15 days above 115 degrees F (double the previous record).

Image
From National Weather Service, October 14, 2020

At what point will it be too hot for humans? It's up to us - governments, corporations, individuals - to make decisions to control what happens in the future and to stop the runaway heat increases.

Yale Climate Connections (YCC) has all sorts of climate related articles.  (Example:November 2020 among warmest Novembers on record, NOAA and NASA report)

Graph of global (land and ocean) temperature increases over time from 1880 to 2020 at NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration).

Excerpts from NPR: 2020 May Be The Hottest Year On Record. Here's The Damage It Did

With just a few weeks left, 2020 is in a dead-heat tie for the hottest year on record. But whether it claims the top spot misses the point, climate scientists say. There is no shortage of disquieting statistics about what is happening to the Earth. ...continue reading "This Was A Really Hot Year"

Many people have noticed that marijuana (cannabis) has gotten stronger over the past decades, and now a study agrees. The THC in marijuana is what gives a person a "high", and those levels have really increased since 1970. That means what was smoked at Woodstock back in1969 was much milder than what is being smoked today.

An international group of researchers reviewed studies of THC and CBD concentrations in cannabis from 7 countries for the past 50 years. They found that THC (delta‐9‐tetrahydrocannabinol) concentrations  increased steadily over the years, but the cannabidiol (CBD) concentrations remained stable. They attribute this to high-THC strains of cannabis being sold nowadays.

The researchers point out that studies show that: "Human laboratory studies show that THC administration causes dose‐dependent increases in intoxication, cognitive impairment, anxiety and psychotic‐like symptoms." Which means - be careful when smoking marijuana! It's strong!

By the way, there are many terms used to describe cannabis or marijuana nowadays, including weed, pot, and chronic.

From Science Daily: Cannabis strength soars over past half century

New research shows that over the past 50 years street cannabis across the world has become substantially stronger carrying an increased risk of harm.  ...continue reading "Marijuana Is Much Stronger These Days"